New 3D printing technology promises stronger, more versatile materials

Credit: Mark Wallheiser/FAMU-FSU College of Engineering.

Researchers at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering are revolutionizing 3D printing technology, creating better and stronger materials for a wide range of uses.

Inside Tarik Dickens’ lab, engineers are fine-tuning 3D printing tools to meet the growing demand for personalized products and structures.

“We’re entering an era where we need to quickly create new products and devices,” says Dickens.

“Unlike the past 60 years of industrial research, where developing something new could take years, we now need to go from an idea to a finished product much faster.”

This rapid development is made possible by 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing. Dickens began his research by developing composite materials—substances made by combining two or more different materials to create a new one with enhanced properties.

These composites range from reinforced concrete and plywood to advanced ceramic composites used in jet engines.

By mixing different materials in innovative ways, scientists can create new materials with desirable properties.

Additive and digital manufacturing are opening new possibilities for developing composite materials, which is the current focus of Dickens’ research.

For example, some 3D-printed plastics contain tiny pieces of metal. Dickens and his team developed a small magnetic device that can rotate nanoparticles within fluid suspensions during 3D printing.

This process adjusts properties like strength, making the printed materials better and stronger. This research is part of the National Science Foundation’s Centers of Research Excellence in Science and Technology Center program.

The team has a patent on this magnetic device and is working on other assisted-printing tools. “Our goal is to make multimaterial and multifunctional structures common in additive manufacturing,” Dickens explains. These structures can serve various purposes, such as providing electromagnetic shielding or adding strength to a structure.

Last year, Dickens, along with graduate student Abdullah Al Noman and postdoctoral researcher Balaji Krishna Kumar, published a paper in Virtual and Physical Prototyping.

The paper explored the state of additive manufacturing and a new technique called field-assisted additive manufacturing.

This technique uses magnets, acoustics, or electricity to fine-tune the printing process.

By combining magnetic nanomaterials with nonmagnetic ones, printers can create composites with fibers oriented in specific directions, resulting in products with unique strength properties.

The team experimented with different ratios of wire or powder as printing materials to find the best combination for maximum strength and flexibility.

Research like Dickens’ could lead to custom models or rapid prototypes for various applications. As 3D printing technology advances, engineers aim to make it more accessible. “Imagine waking up every morning and having a new car,” Dickens says.

“I’m a car enthusiast, and I’d love to drive a Ferrari one day and a Maserati the next. In the future, additive manufacturing could make this possible, much like how computers became household items. Having a 3D printer in every home could turn science fiction into reality.”

The advancements in 3D printing technology at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering promise a future where creating new, personalized products quickly and efficiently is the norm.

This new technology will transform how we think about manufacturing and the possibilities for innovation in everyday life.